A new friend

The next few hours passed painfully slowly. I didn’t dare go back to the movie theater as I still had no idea how video cameras interacted with the mirror. For all I knew, cops were circulating a picture of me. Would that even work? Could they circulate a picture of me as Mack and identify me as Frank? That would seem like a rather obvious hole in the system, so I had to assume that the mirror protected me there as well, but I couldn’t chance it.

Once I was clear of the mall I stopped and thought about what I needed to do. Did I really need to ditch the gun? I hadn’t actually killed Zeke, after all. Still, he might die. Even if he didn’t, if the cops stopped me and found the gun the ballistics would match. It really hurt, but I wiped the gun down thoroughly and then making sure no one was watching I dropped it into a storm drain before quickly riding off.

The next step was my clothes. I stepped into a phone booth and back out in my jeans and t-shirt. The weed clown outfit I dumped in a trash can, pushing it down deep under the top layers of trash. It was way too distinct. I’d gotten kind of attached to all the pockets in the shorts, but I didn’t need to get arrested because of them. The dime bags of weed were safely rattling around in the bottom of the backpack.

I took a look at the piece I’d taken from Zeke.

Glock 17 (E) Ammo (9mm Parabellum): 17/17
Handling: B Damage: D Serial: None
Penetration: D Accuracy: E Value: ???

A Glock, the gun every gangster loved. It was black, made of plastic and was quite a bit different than the gun I’d taken from Magnus. No manual safety, for one. I’d read that Glocks didn’t have a traditional safety but wasn’t quite sure what that meant. I just hoped the stupid thing wouldn’t go off accidentally. I holstered it and covered it with the tail of my t-shirt.

With all that done, I felt safe. Or safer, anyway. I wasn’t a particularly unique looking guy and without the weed clown uniform to make me stand out I doubted any kind of description would help the cops pick me out.

To kill time, I rode around the neighborhood, sat under trees and in the late afternoon teenagers began to filter back into the park. When they did, I rode a few blocks away to the nearest phone booth, changed back to shadows and returned to the park.

Before today this process had seemed like a lot of fun. I was selling a product that made people happy and made me a bunch of money. Now it felt like something hazardous and stressful.

Being out here as Mack meant that I was exposed. Anyone in the shadows nearby that knew the Hip were looking for me could sell me out. I didn’t know what kind of payoff they were offering, but it was obviously enough to get low level scumbags like Rozzo to call it in, to literally drop a dime. Well, a quarter these days but still. That fear kept me edgy the entire time, and it obviously showed. I was constantly looking around.

At about 8 o’clock, Juliette entered the park, accompanied again by her brother and Jason Dean. There was a roar of recognition from the earlier teenagers, already partying.

I had managed to sell a few dime bags, but things really hadn’t kicked off yet.

My Customer ID skill had worked once, which was nice. It was leveling up crazily slowly, and I was hoping that the success chance would get significantly better at second level. What I really needed was to sell more weight with it. After all, it was about money earned, not number of sales made.

Could the system be gamed? Could I find a customer that wanted to buy and then make them buy everything I had with money I loaned them? If this reality was a computer game, maybe that hole would still be here. But with how thorough and intelligent the mirror seemed to be I could only assume that those kinds of shenanigans wouldn’t work at all. No good dungeon master would let that kind of shit happen, after all.

Juliette approached me a few minutes after entering the park, trailed by Jason, who I could only assume was the hopeful boyfriend-in-waiting. It didn’t look like he was getting a lot of traction, as she was nearly ignoring him.

“Hey, it’s the Weed Man! I didn’t recognize you for a minute,” she said, smiling at me.

I gave a wry smile. I’d heard the nickname that some of the teenagers given had given me but wasn’t that fond of it.

“What can I get you, Juliette?” I asked.

She sat on the bench beside me, right next to me. So close that I could feel her body heat. After what had happened only hours before, it didn’t feel right.

“You look so tense. And it’s Jules,” she corrected, gently touching my left arm. Jason stood nearby watching and frowned at that.

“Jules, then.”

“I want some of your weed of course, but what’s wrong? You look so tense.”

“Yeah, it’s been a crazy day.”

“Well, Sir Weed Man, I will take three bags of your finest, what did you call it? Green something?”

“Call me Mack, please. And it’s Green Monster.”

I pulled out three packets of the green and purple bud from one of my pockets and held it in my hand as she dug through her purse and produced a couple bills. I was braced for it and surprised when she didn’t try to get the price down.

Strangely, after we made the transaction, she didn’t seem like she was in a hurry to leave. She sat back on the bench, digging a packet of papers out of her purse, and ripping open the first packet of weed.

“Jules, you got the weed, let’s go,” Jason said, standing near and looking impatient.

Jules had just finished making her first joint, rolling it with consummate skill and speed.

“I’m going to stay here a bit. Here, take this and I’ll come and join you in a little while,” she said, and handed the first joint to him.

Jason obviously wanted to protest, but didn’t dare. He took the joint and left, as ordered.

I chuckled. “Are you always like that?”

“Like what?” she asked, looking at me as her hands began to roll the second joint. Her motions were perfect and long practiced.

“I don’t know, bossy? You just told him to piss off, and it’s clear he’s really into you.”

“No shit. Nah, Jason’s nice but I don’t think of him that way. Sometimes him hanging around gets on my nerves, you know? I just wanted a break, and figured I’d hang with you for a little while. Is that cool?”

I didn’t have any objection, so I shrugged. So far, Jules had been pleasant company.

She finished rolling the joint and put it in her mouth. She lit it and drew deep, holding the smoke in and then exhaling in two thick streams through her nose.

“That truly is nice weed. You want a hit?” she asked, offering me the joint.

“No, I don’t smoke.”

“Shit, really? You sell it but you don’t smoke it? No wonder you’re so tense. Seriously, have a drag, it’ll do you good.”

She offered me the joint again. I almost automatically declined again, but stopped myself as I examined my motivations.

Back in LA, weed was pretty much commonplace. It was more likely that someone you encountered smoked weed then that then they smoked cigarettes if that helped put it in perspective.

It wasn’t like I was under the impression that there was some kind of stigma, or that weed was really bad for you. I’d just never been that interested. The few people I’d met back in LA that smoked a lot tended to be kind of dumb, but it was clear that that didn’t have to be the case. Manny wasn’t, and neither was Jules. They didn’t fit the stoner stereotype, so maybe that stereotype was just like so many others—wrong.

She saw me hesitating and smiled wickedly, pushing the joint marginally closer and wiggling her eyebrows.

“Fine,” I said, giving in and taking the joint from her hand.

I had never smoked anything before, not tobacco or weed, so my first try didn’t work out. I doubled over coughing, as my virgin lungs attempted to reject the smoke.

Jules took the joint from my hand and pounded me on the back.

“Damn, that really was your first time. Come on, cough it out and then you can try again. It’s not hard, I think you just psyched yourself out.”

I wasn’t particularly feeling like I needed to try again, but it seemed stupid to commit to doing it and then pussy out after my lungs had failed me. I took the joint back from her and this time it worked. I managed to inhale the smoke and hold it in my lungs for a couple seconds before exhaling it, only coughing slightly.

“Great, your first hit,” Jules said. “I’ve successfully popped another cherry and corrupted more of our youth.”

I laughed. “Is that something you do a lot, Jules?”

“Damn right.”

She took another hit, savoring it for much longer than I had before exhaling a thin stream of smoke. She passed it back.

“One more hit and then that’ll be enough for you. This stuff’s actually kinda strong.”

I wasn’t feeling anything, so I took a deeper hit and held it a bit longer before I exhaled. This time, I didn’t cough.

I handed the joint to her and leaned into the wooden backrest of the bench, feeling odd. Whatever I had been expecting, it didn’t happen. I didn’t start feeling like I was really drunk, or giggly or paranoid. Instead I just felt good. The stress of the day that had been sitting on my shoulders like an invisible gargoyle lightened and drifted away.

The rough wood of the bench went from hard and uncomfortable to just fine. I was suddenly aware of the warmth of Jules leaning companionably against my left shoulder, and it felt good. Her face was close, watching me. I looked into her eyes and she smiled. I returned it without thinking.

“Thanks, Jules. I do feel better.”

“Clearly! You want to talk about it?”

I didn’t, and I hadn’t planned to but then I was.

Something about the weed had loosened my tongue, without me even realizing it. It had made me feel like Jules was a good friend, and that of course I could confide in her. I was still in control enough that I didn’t tell her about my confrontation with Zeke, instead I told her about Lyra. About how we had connected, and then I’d had to leave the theater.

“That’s rough. Why did you have to leave?” She asked.

“This guy was in there looking for me, a bad guy. You know, life of a drug dealer and all that. It’s not always safe.”

“Damn, that sucks. A new love nipped in the bud. You should have given her your number or got hers.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I didn’t have the time.”

Our conversation was interrupted by another group of teenagers coming up to us, wanting to buy. I’d been neglecting my Customer ID skill, but it didn’t matter. When teenagers would arrive for the party, they’d smell the weed and ask where it came from, if they didn’t already know. The partiers would tell them to go see the Weed Man and point me out. I sold four more grams, and while I was doing that, Jules got up to leave.

She gave me a hug, interrupting the deal. “Mack, I’m going to go hang with my brother and Jay. Sorry about your morning. Maybe you’ll meet her again. You never know, ST can be a small city.”

Jules returned to the party, and a couple minutes later I was finished my latest transaction.

I thought about what she’d said. It’d never been my experience that Los Angeles had was a small city, but it wasn’t like I spent a lot of time in public in my old life. Most of my time had been spent at school, at home on the Internet, or playing tabletop games with a small group of friends. Maybe it really was a small city. Still, I doubted it.

I continued to sell for a while but had to leave earlier than I wanted, with the party still raging. Martin’s curfew was coming up, and I estimated it would take thirty or forty minutes on my bicycle to come close to being on time for it.

“Last call, I’m leaving in five minutes,” I announced to the party. I made several more sales and got another level in Fast Count. Once it was clear there weren’t any more takers I got on my bike him and pedaled towards home, waving goodbye to the gathered partiers. They yelled “Weed Man!” and cheered as I left them behind.